We thought we could transcend ugliness. An old world had exploded and from its ashes rose a new. A new ungainly cosmology of myths as flamboyant as the New Gods comics genius Jack Kirby invented in the 1970s. Cosmology is our attempt to explain – and perhaps impose artificial order on -- a chaotic world.
Our new world was one marked by crises that supposedly had driven priorities and fashions towards the elegant – a new version of classics, those old stars of the firmament that every decade since the 1970s had said they were bringing back. This time would be different. We had new, technocratic, gods on our side: information, platforms where users gladly volunteered their personal experiences and shared their empirical knowledge. No longer, we thought --or we were told – would we be bound to the cycles of designer whim, marketing’s lying blandishments, and industrial mediocrity. Through our new consumer superpower –a shared truth – we could bypass all that. In addition to allowing us to volunteer our personal experiences with peers, that shared truth brought the world to our door, allowed us to look up, contact, converse online with those small makers who didn’t advertise, no matter where they were in the world. The cosmos was at once much wider and much quicker to traverse, like Metron in his chair at the Source Wall.
Kirby’s DC universe, Metron’s universe-hopping chair and all, was glorious claptrap, space hippies like the Forever People fighting Darkseid and his minion Glorious Godfrey, he of the hypnotic silver tongue (masquerading on Earth as, at various timely moments, a televangelist and later a talk radio host named G. Gordon Godfrey). From their planet New Genesis unrecognizable demigods poured forth in battle against eldritch, bizarre yet familiar evil. DC’s universe was notoriously marked by crisis too.
My first tailor was one of those I’d discovered in our new world. For all of his faults, he helped me towards an elegance of independent yet informed thought, steering me gently on my first visit to the remaining cloth houses of quality, those bunches with British names I had never heard of that my first tailor gently and correctly steered me to, like the old H. Lesser or J&J Minnis…
We thought we could liberate the things we loved, like the beautifully cut suits my tailor made me, from all of their prior class baggage and political associations. We would remake meaning by making things our own, in my case clothes that were never absolutely classic, but personal in their own subtle ways… Our shared consciousness would give us sufficient knowledge to fully realize our wonderful individuality.
Alas, the poison was in the system.
The New Gods are dead, the pantheon collapsed. By order of a mysterious higher power, each strange avatar has been picked off according to some greater plan.
On our Earth, our ideal – the personal connection of discussion forums, of bloggers reporting their unfiltered experiences, of the wonderful possibilities of discoveries of makers, stores, as yet unpolluted or their old quality stock as yet unpillaged, bent, kinked. They lent themselves to distortion and co-optation: forums to groupthink and to the sharing and amplification of the worst beliefs and worst cultural baggage of the things we loved, from the ridiculous ideas of manliness voiced by chauvinist Kermit the Frog impersonator Jordan Peterson to jackboot apologia by well-dressed hacks. Far from fostering informed individual thought, these platforms created the modern mob mentality known as groupthink.
Brands and their marketers found willing mouthpieces in social media stars eager for access or swag. But more fundamentally we misjudged, thinking that we, the consumers, had control over the cycle of fashion, that now has spun to performative ugliness: fetishistically expensive collaborations with Crocs; triple-soled designer sneakers resembling the models for a starship in A New Hope; aggressively casual branded sweatpants to wear in formal settings.
Then again, my favorite New God was Mister Miracle, Scott Free, whose superpower was escapology, no trap too devious for him. I wanted to identify with him, married to a Female Fury, for escapology reading my escapism… In claiming myths and making them ours, Jeet Heer wrote, we reinforce their fluidity: the possibility of change, of escape. In my case it means continuing to wear what I love. For me the suit, and how I wore it, was transgressive.
We know now that time will not reveal the essence of a true style that hews to some external norm. Time can only reveal the essence of self. Break the mold. In that spirit, pictured is another ancient god, a Trianon lava rock “carved ancient figure” cufflink acquired in a prior age of plenty, showing their decidedly iffy quality control. He, too, has weathered the death of the New Gods. At some flashpoint, some confluence of events, they may rise again. In the meantime and without hope or despair, I know that not even infinite crises, on infinite Earths, can truly be final.